Thursday, February 03, 2005

Emotional Politics

I did not watch the State of the Union speech last night in part because I had 45 pages of Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion to read for the next morning's class, but also because I have determined that hearing the President speak is simply not good for my health. So I have only heard accounts of the moment when he introduced the bereaved parents of a deceased soldier from the Iraq war. With the attention of the nation on them, the mother broke down in tears while holding her son's dog-tags, and the father was noticeably shaken. This spectacle then became an opportunity for President Bush to display his compassionate side, visibly choking back tears in front of the cameras. Now I have no doubt that he truly felt saddened by these parents' grief, but to use that emotion for political gain vitiates its moral status as sympathy. The entire episode became part of the drama of emotional politics meant to blind the public from any insight into the President's true motives and purposes by precluding any rational assessment of them. Brad DeLong captures my response to this crass exploitation of these poor parents in order to manipulate an emotionally overwrought electorate:
We could have held these just-past elections in June of 2003. We would--in the fresh glow of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein--have gotten a more pro-US Iraqi assembly than we have now. But we didn't. We have dinked around for nineteen months. We haven't spent it rebuilding Iraq. We haven't spent it maintaining civil order. We have demonstrated that 150,000 non-Arabic speaking American soldiers cannot suppress an insurgency. And over the past nineteen months we have lost 1300 dead and 7000 permanently maimed.

For what? The first 100 of our war dead died to overthrow a brutal dictator whom some in the Bush administration appear to have genuinely (but falsely) thought to be on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. The next 1300 died... for what, exactly?
After all of the self-praising in connection to the purported success of the recent elections, Kevin Drum points out that "you'd hardly even know that the only reason we just had elections in Iraq was because of a UN-brokered deal with the country's most prominent cleric — opposed by the Bush administration for over a year until they were finally forced to give in and agree to it."

In the end, reading Hegel proved to be more uplifting and less maddening. At times like these, we need to hear Hegel demolish the pretensions of Jacobi who claimed that our highest human aspirations can only be intuited immediately but not thought rationally. Nay, we are "thinking spirits."


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